Month: April 2016

The day my head exploded in a cloud of smoke: a whisky memory

Posted by: Ted

Ted in armchair

As I sit here in a comfy wingback Chesterfield armchair in the lounge at Lagavulin distillery on Islay, I reflect that this represents the culmination of a very significant journey for me. My being here now was (in part) sparked by a moment in time a number of years ago that changed how I experienced the world.

When we were young, poor and tasteless uni students, we drank whisky without any art or depth of thought. Our main drinking decision was how cheap we could get away with without completely destroying ourselves.

However, one particular night we happened to be out on the town for a friend’s bucks night. Feeling in a generous mood and relatively flush, we stopped in at a bar and decided to order a couple of drams a bit above our usual weight.

Our decision this time was based purely on how cool the name was. Our first dram was the fun sounding Monkey Shoulder, which taught us about finding better blends and which we still enjoy to this day.

The other was a rather mystical sounding dram named the Lagavulin 16yo. Not thinking too much about it I took a decent hit of the dark amber liquid. Suddenly, time stood still and my mind exploded. I had never tasted anything like it.

Billows of hot, medicinal, coastal smoke filled my mouth and roared down my throat, leaving my senses reeling. The others around me were being gripped by a similar reaction. It was love at first dram.

Ted with fireplace

That one moment catalysed within me a yearning for good quality whisky, to try exciting and interesting drams. That feeling simmered away until the finish of uni and the gaining of a job and more importantly, money. Suddenly a whole world of exciting whisky was within grasp.

Eventually the path we had been set upon led to the founding of the number one whisky blog in Tasmania, something m’colleague and I are immensely proud of, and the discovery of a whole community of people just as excited about whisky as we are.

And so here I am on Islay, sitting at the very distillery that kickstarted the whole adventure. It feels slightly surreal to be honest (although if it was truly surreal there would probably be a couple of highland cows sitting on the other chairs smoking pipes and discussing the football results), but at the same time like wearing a favourite old tweed suit.

Ted at Lagavulin

It’s a significant time for both of us actually, as Lagavulin celebrates their 200th birthday this year, a feat to be congratulated. I will no doubt return here again, as will m’colleague and many others besides, hopefully for another 200 years and more, and revel in this glorious, extraordinary whisky.

Sláinte mhath, and keep on waffling.

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NAS Week: A bad wrap

Non-age statement whisky rightly or wrongly gets a bad rap in the whisky community. So, naturally, we thought we would conclude our week of NAS whisky reviews in the form of a bad rap. Best read with some kind of beat in the background: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s9-doKcLwl8&nohtml5=False

Waffle Boys

Wafflers with swag

The lights go crazy as a “sick beat” echoes out across the arena. An announcer with a Glencairn shaped microphone cries out across the crowd:

“You said it couldn’t be done. An entire week of non-age statement whisky! And yet here they are: two rappers who will never use coke. Please give it up for the Wafflerz!!!!”

 

Yo whisky drinkers they got this infatuation

About sticking stuff in barrels for its maturation

But how long for? There’s a bit of debatement

So we thought we might try us some non-age statement

 

Glenlivet’s older spirit, they’ll try to preserve

So they’ve brought out a new drop called the Founders Reserve

I’m sure many bottles will keep getting sold

But it’ll never compare to the 12 year old

 

So I look for something else to fill my cup

Will the real Auchentoshan please stand up

Although the producers claim that its Classic

The 12 and the 3-wood are far more fantastic

 

When you pour some Old Pulteney down your throat

Try not to forget it’s been on a boat

The younger spirit gives it plenty of spice

This is a dram both nautical and nice

 

The Talisker NAS with the tastiest form

Is the one with the Dark before the Storm

But you know the saddest thing about this tale

You can only buy it in travel retail

 

Leaving behind the Isle of Skye

We found a dram of Oban well worth a try

Coming from a Little Bay on the west coast

Was this curious drop we found we liked the most

 

The moral of the story is while some taste rotten

Unworthy replacements that will soon be forgotten

Other NASes are without a doubt far less bleak

And thus concludes non-age statement week

 

#NASweek

 

Single available on itunes soon… =P

Oban Little Bay

Reviewed by: The Cynical Scot

Oban Little Bay WW

When you only have a little to say about a little dram, make sure the little says a lot. Oban Little Bay is a recent outpouring from a little town on the west coast of Scotland.

Oban claims its little spirit lives within the copper stills, where it rests between batches to help develop the experience. Little oak casks are the next little touch to smooth the draw and build the richness.

On the nose it spins and winks and jigs, while the taste is a warm clear heat; a dancing djinn on the warm moor. Though not smoky, it feels like fire.

This emissary from the little people doesn’t decide whether the spirit is of earth or fire or water, but being from Oban it dances between them all and lives in none. A real genie in a bottle.

★★★

How it compares:

The Little Bay has a youthful, flickery, salty warmth, whereas the 14yo is a sweeter, more complex and refined drop. Even though we would go for the 14yo, the Little Bay has its own magic touch.

Talisker Dark Storm

Reviewed by: Ted

Talisker Dark Storm

Thunder crashed and wind howled across Skye as the Taliskerians prepared to bottle their new whisky, a non-age statement barrelled in extra-heavily charred oak casks. Keith glanced at Nev and shouted over the noise “what do you reckon we should call this stuff?”

“Dunno… Sunny Skyes?”

“Nah, that’s the name of Mark Lochhead’s villa on Majorca. What do you reckon Taranis?”

Taranis, the Celtic god of thunder, had started working at the distillery after a bit of a slump in the smiting business and a failed attempt to break into Hollywood. After a moment’s pause, he reached into Nowhere and pulled out a bronze goblet covered in spoked wheel designs that made the world spin if looked at for too long.

Plunging the goblet into a barrel, he scooped up a god sized dram and breathed deeply of the captured spirit. Rich stewed fruits, heavy spices, grilling meats, chocolate, banana and curling sweet smoke rose up to meet him.

Planting his feet, Taranis took a mighty draw, amber liquid spilling down his braided moustaches. Sharp, crackling salt on burning driftwood burst across his tongue, followed by dark honey and cured meats. Over the top rolled curling smoke, like a forest fire seen on the horizon. The finish was bright, sharp and lingering, yet somehow contained it’s opposite, the void.

Keith and Nev looked at each other nervously. The brooding 8ft tall figure in its leathers and woad was a forbidding sight. Suddenly Taranis stirred, his eyes sparking with distant lightning, and spoke in a voice like far away thunder rolling across the hills:

“DARK STORM”

And so it was.

★★★

Dark Ted

How it compares

The Dark Storm is quite raw and robust compared to the 10yo, which is (slightly surprisingly) smoother and lighter. The Dark Storm makes big leaps and bounds over its other Talisker NAS stablemates, the Storm and the Skye. We’ve had the Storm and found it to be lacking in guts, a bit… bland, and from reports the Skye is even lighter. If you’re looking to try a NAS Talisker, the Dark Storm is definitely the way to go.

Old Pulteney Navigator

Reviewed by: Ted

Old Pulteney Navigator

It is no great surprise that Old Pulteney distillery takes inspiration from the sea, seeing as it resides on the rugged north coast of Scotland. In fact, Pulteneytown, the area of Wick from which the distillery takes its name, was a major player in the 19th century herring boom and harboured (ahem) a bustling harbour.

Old Pulteney isn’t just happy to let their love of the sea infuse their whisky, oh no. You know it’s a serious passion when you sponsor a vessel in the world’s longest round-the-world yacht race. The Clipper round-the-world race tests teams across a lazy 40000NM, demanding great effort from its participants.

To celebrate its maiden voyage in the ’13-’14 race, the aptly named ‘Old Pulteney’ clipper carried a special cargo on board, the first barrel of a new limited edition NAS whisky named the ‘Navigator’, crafted from a marriage of younger aged bourbon and sherry casks.

On the nose the Navigator tacks against bursts of chocolate and salted bacon before having its sails filled with malty biscuits, while oak decking creaks underneath.

Sharp, salty waves break over the palate, prickling across the back of the tongue. A juicy citrus burst through the middle keeps away the scurvy, followed by a warm trade wind that soars down the throat.

The Old Pulteney Navigator is a dram worthy of its nautical namesake. Its youth helps enhance its maritime nature, evoking the tempestuous seas that govern life along the north coast of Scotland. If you are a maritime whisky fan then the Navigator will definitely float your boat.

★★★

Ted the Navigator

How it compares:

The Navigator is the wild, ever-changing sea, whereas the 12yo is the calm, smooth safety of the harbour, welcoming the weary sailor home. Both have their own allure, but you don’t necessarily want to be tossed about in the old briny every day.

Auchentoshan Classic

Reviewed by: Nick

Auchentoshan Classic

If you’re fortunate enough to visit Glasgow (like me) and are somewhat interested in the odd dram (like me) then you simply must pay a visit to Auchentoshan Distillery (like me). The triple distilling Lowlands champions have been producing some lovely drops for a while now and a tour of the establishment that creates them is well worth it. The tour concludes, as all the best do, with a tasting – sampling Auchentoshan’s core range. The 12 Year Old is among those offered, as is the fantastic Three Wood. Up first, however, is the Auchentoshan Classic – a Non Age Statement whisky.

Upon my visit I got the impression that the staff were keen to skip past this one and get stuck into the 12 Year Old – as if they were saying, “but enough of this folly, time for some real whisky”. I mean, admittedly our trusty guide was right – the 12 blows the Classic out of the water. But there’s still something to say for the lowly old (young?) NAS bottle.

The Auchentoshan Classic is lighter in colour than other releases from the distillery and demonstrates very clearly its bourbon maturation. On the nose it is sweet, grassy and with a touch of honey. It is pleasant and summery. The palate is similarly sweet with notes of fruit-based confectionery. I also got the faintest hints of peanut butter, cloves and marmalade. The finish is short but strangely rather fitting for this gentle dram.

This is a feather-light whisky.  A Pinot Noir rather than a Shiraz. But every now and again, that’s alright. Especially if you’re on the distillery tour and the 12 Year Old is up next!

★★

Classic Nick

How it compares:

The 12 Year old is so much more vibrant than the Classic. They are both light and sweet, but the 12 Year old has depths to explore – whereas with the Classic what you see is what you get. The finish is similarly short with both drams – and while this is a disappointment in the 12, the abrupt finish seems to suit the Classic. Still, though, I think I’d rather have the Three Wood.

The Glenlivet Founders Reserve

Reviewed by: Nick

Founders Reserve n waffle

In 2015 we farewelled a Whisky Waffle favourite son, the Glenlivet 12. It was there to share the laughs when we held cards nights, to comfort us when we’d had a rough day at work and raised high when we rung in the New Year. Sadly Glenlivet, in their ultimate wisdom, have retired the 12 for the foreseeable future. But fear not – they have introduced a direct(ish) replacement! It comes in shiny blue packaging so it must be good, mustn’t it? Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the Glenlivet Founders Reserve.

It would be so easy to do a straight comparison of the two whiskies, but I decided to sample the new kid on the block on its own to see how it stood up. It turns out ‘stood up’ was possibly the wrong analogy. Sat down maybe? Perhaps slouched…

On the nose, I found the Founders Reserve has plenty of caramel and some dry malty notes. An acceptable, if not auspicious start. So I took a sip. This turned out to be an error. There’s an unpleasant sweetness in there – a sugary, treacly flavour lacking in any complexity. It’s not bad per se, but there is a distinct manufactured, home-brand quality about it which is hard to enjoy. The finish is warm and spicy, almost tangy on the back of the tongue. Finally there is the merest hint of raisins, a cameo appearance that leaves you wishing there was more to be found.

I cannot say that the Founders Reserve is particularly offensive in its flavour. But I can (and do) claim that it is all a bit bland and inconsequential, bordering on boring, which disappoints me greatly. Glenlivet are truly great makers of Scottish whisky and it saddens me to think that a generation of whisky drinkers will discover the distillery via this disappointing bottle.

★★

Nick and the Glenlivet Founders Reserve

How it compares:

Without doubt there are similarities in flavour between the Founders Reserve and the 12 Year Old – they are both obvious Speysiders full of caramel and honey. But the 12 Year Old has so much more going on than the NAS bottle. There are subtle complexities to be found throughout the 12 which the Founders lacks. The Founders Reserve is the Coke Zero to the 12’s Coca-Cola.

No Age No Good? Whisky Waffle launch NAS Week

Posted by: Nick

Wafflers in smoking jackets

Some may argue that our attire is the greater controversy here…

A controversial topic? Surely we don’t do that here at Whisky Waffle! Well, just this once, we thought we’d take things seriously and leave our flippancy behind.

Sort of…

Today’s discussion is about non-age statement, or NAS, whisky. For non-whisky geeks, NAS whisky is a bottling that cannot be described as a 12 Year Old, or a 10 Year Old, or an anything-year old, because there is younger spirit mixed through like a very whisky-flavoured cocktail.

These NASes are borne out of necessity: since us Wafflers discovered the stuff, there just hasn’t been enough of it around! So rather than waiting the usual 12 years, distillers have been getting impatient and slapping 9 year old, 8 year old (3 year old?) spirit into the mix and coming up with impressive sounding Gaelic names to go on the label.

So how do we feel about this situation? Is the stuff as NASty as it sounds? Well, to be honest, I have no problem with the concept of NAS whisky. I mean, you just can’t deride the Talisker Storm as liquid Nickleback while simultaneously proclaiming the Ardbeg Uigeadail as the solution for world peace. So just like any supposedly ‘superior’ whisky with a number on the bottle, there are good ones and there are bad.

Founders Reserve n waffle

But seriously, the box IS rather pretty…

Which brings me neatly to Glenlivet – a prominent convert to the NAS fad. I wrote a glowing review about their ever-dependable 12 Year Old and described how its accessibility was its strength. That was, until it was no longer accessible. In its place, in a blue box (which is sadly not bigger on the inside) came the sophisticated-sounding ‘Founders Reserve’. I was slightly concerned – though this disquiet came from my affection towards the 12 rather than my automatic dismissal of anything ageless. I was perfectly fine so long as it tasted good. Which, I’ve recently discovered, it doesn’t.

It’s not that the dram is comparable to the toxic output of a nuclear reactor. It’s quite drinkable in a ‘at-least-it’s-not-red-label’ sorta way. But it doesn’t stand up to the depth and character of the previous entry-level incumbent. And this made me both sad and rush out to get a bottle of the 12 while I still could.

Non age statement whisky is not the scourge of the earth that many flat cap-wearing whisky reviewers may have you believe. There are some tasty drops out there that would please the most snobbiest of whisky snobs (if you told them it was an old bottle of Macallan). However, in the case of Glenlivet, where you can directly compare the old and the NASish new – it’s one nil to the age statements.

Of course, another way of looking at it is that after eight drams, it doesn’t really matter how long it’s been in a wooden barrel for…

The writing of this article prompted a lively debate among the Whisky Waffle boys – so much so, that they decided to spend a week looking at some prominent NAS releases to see if they are as derisory as their reputation suggests. So with great excitement – we present to you NAS-Week! Make sure you pay a few visits throughout the week and find out our thoughts – or post some juicy trolling comments! Tomorrow will kick off proceedings with a detailed review of this article’s nemesis: the Founders Reserve! But why start there? Leave us a comment telling us EXACTLY how you feel about non age statement whisky in the replies!

#NASweek

Oban 14 Year Old

Reviewed by: Ted

Oban 14

Rather like the wild haggis (Haggis scotticus), Oban distillery is a curious wee beastie. Located on the craggy west coast of Scotland in the town of the same name, Oban is one of the oldest distilleries in the country, founded in 1794 on the site of an old brewery by brothers John and Hugh Stevenson. Interestingly however, despite its lengthy existence it has remained one of the smallest distilleries around, with only two pot stills in residence to make the good stuff.

Understandably, the limited production capacity has focused the Oban distillers, choosing to craft a few expressions rather than the seemingly endless releases pedalled by larger producers. Luckily this means that the Obanites have had plenty of time to refine and tinker with their creations.

Oban’s flagship dram is one that should pique the curiosity of any whisky fiend looking for something a little different. Eschewing usual ageing lengths, the Oban 14yo, part of Diageo’s “Classic Malts Selection”, exploits an interesting niche between youth and maturity, and it must be noted, at a price on par (at least in Australia) with many 12yo whiskies.

The character of the 14yo walks a fine line, balanced as it is between the highlands to the east and the islands to the west. A careful nosing reveals a light, sweet, dusty spirit with suggestions of damsons and green apples, giving it a sense of kinship with other highland drops such as Dalwhinnie.

The taste on the other hand speaks of its seaside home, beginning with a bright, slightly salty burst on the front of the palate, lifted by the 43% strength, followed by a hint of seaweed and coastal air. The mid palate smooths out and becomes much more rounded, with dried fruits, zest, spices and perhaps just the lightest hint of smoke. The finish is clean and doesn’t linger for too long.

Once you’ve knocked back a few sips of the 14yo it’s worth holding the glass up to the light and contemplating the colour, which should be a dark amber. The reason I make mention of this is that the 14yo is not aged in the sherry casks that the colour suggests, but rather ex-bourbon hogsheads.

The answer to this conundrum will cause some to shrug their shoulders unconcernedly and others to foam at the mouth in righteous indignation: caramel e150a. Why Oban chooses to use artificial colouring, while other premium distilleries go to great pains to point out that they keep their own products au naturale, is a secret known only to the Obanites. Whether or not it’s presence affects the flavour of the 14yo I will leave up to your own distinguished palates, fellow wafflers.

The small size of Oban definitely works in its favour, allowing it time to lovingly craft a quirky and interesting product that does not hurt the wallet too much. The 14yo is certainly a delightful and evocative drop; and unlike the pesky wild haggis, is relatively easy to track down for those curious to discover the ‘west highland’ flavour.

★★★